Technopolis

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* Book: Technopolis. By Katja Schwaller.

URL = https://www.assoziation-a.de/buch/Technopolis

Interview

Author Katja Schwaller interviewed by Magdalena Taube and Krystian Woznicki.

* In your book “Technopolis” (2019) you explore urban struggles in the San Francisco Bay Area, drawing connections to European metropolises such as Berlin. You investigate how, in the course of 24/7 network capitalism, life and work are merging in new ways, how workers of Big Tech companies act as guinea pigs for their own innovations, and how, in doing so, users are instrumentalized in a new way, while at the same time new forms of expropriation are “normalized.” Are users the workers of the future?

What we can certainly observe are new forms of monetizing social activities and everyday tasks when they take place on "social" media or digital platforms. The resulting data is the actual raw material of tech companies, which is then analyzed, mined, resold, and transformed into market shares and often exorbitant stock market valuations. In a sense, digital companies live from the unpaid labor of their users. Every click, every "like," and every "shared" posting thus ultimately contributes to the power of these companies. It is no coincidence that smart phones and social media are based on the principle of the slot machine. The “like factor” can be just as addictive as a slot machine.

Gamification also plays an increasingly important role in the workplace, as demonstrated by the use of targets, ratings, 360° feedback and other "incentives." Work is increasingly made to simulate play, to feel like self-actualization within the "game." These mechanisms also play out on social media, where the recognition generated from posting and participating is said to be its own reward in the so-called attention economy, so the work that goes into it can remain uncompensated. In this vein, unpaid digital labor can even contribute to the glorification of precarious working conditions.


* If users represent an important pool of the workers of the future, doesn't that also mean that networked life as work is only worth something when it is particularly vibrant – and without having to provide the workers with real-life foundations such as job security, old-age security, and so forth?

What’s important for these platforms, for the time being, is not the content of a post or a tweet – the main thing is that it generates a buzz and thus contributes to increasing activity on their digital networks. Whether it’s scandals, fake news, trolling or "Facebook revolutions," what’s crucial is the data it generates.

Networked life is capitalized on in various ways: users are only one of the new categories that increasingly replace employees in the traditional sense. For example, I am thinking of the Airbnb "hosts," the "fast rabbits" who work for "Task Rabbit," the "independent contractors" who work for Uber, and so on. They call it "sharing" – but what it does is exacerbate the precarization of workers who work without social benefits, without contracts, by using their own car, at their own risk, or even without pay.

Companies like Uber profit from the increasing precarization that they co-produce, to a certain degree, by disrupting unionized sectors and undermining public transport – or in the case of Airbnb, by driving up rents and exacerbating the housing crisis. Then they offer their own services as “solutions.” Those who can no longer afford their rent can become a "host" and drive for Uber in their "free" time. These activities, in turn, produce data that is analyzed and strategically exploited by these companies, whether it’s to monitor their workers or to beat out competitors in the run for market shares." (https://blogs.mediapart.fr/krystian-woznicki/blog/060420/how-invisibilized-work-made-visible-during-corona-crisis)